On the Dagli: A Translator's Note

Alton Melvar M. Dapanas


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Within the tradition of Philippine literature written in Filipino, an œuvre distinct from Philippine Anglophone literature and literatures of other local Philippine languages, the dagli (see Ang Dagling Tagalog: 1903-1936, Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2007) is a short prose piece which may be flash fiction or flash nonfiction or prose poem, or all, or none of them. It is a genre that proliferated in vernacular magazines, newspapers, and periodicals at the dawn of the 20th century after the Philippine-American War and the Treaty of Paris when the Americans occupied the Philippines, and the English language and American literature was imposed by the state (see Empire’s Proxy: American Literature and US Imperialism in the Philippines, New York University Press, 2011).

The Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994/2020) defines the said genre loosely as “vignettes or sketches” which could be traced back to the Tagalog pasingaw, the Binisayâ pinadalagan or binirisbiris [sometimes called dinalídalí or pinadagan] and the Spanish instantanea or rafaga, as “short account[s] … spontaneous and hurried quality … [either as] an explicit expression of a man’s love for a particular woman, but at other times … highly polemical, expressing anti-American, anti-clerical themes.” My browsing of the 1900-1940s periodicals archive (Manila’s El renacimiento; and Cebu’s Ang suga, El boletín católico, and Ang camatuoran) confirmed my initial observation that this genre æsthetically ranges from oratorically highfalutin speeches to musings of a heartbreak (or in mine and Alvarez’s native tongue, maoy), from societal treatises to narrative arc-less anecdotes of the quotidian. Such are poles apart from the dominant Euro-American short story form advocated by Iowa Workshop-schooled, Rockefeller Foundation-funded Filipinos who brought American New Criticism in our native shores in the 1960s.

Alton Melvar M. Dapanas

is an

Assistant Nonfiction Editor for Panorama.

Alton Melvar M Dapanas (they/them), essayist, poet, and translator from the southern Philippines, is the author of In the Name of the Body: Lyric Essays (Canada: Wrong Publishing, 2023) and Towards a Theory on City Boys: Prose Poems (UK: Newcomer Press, 2021). Published from South Africa to Japan, from France to Australia, and translated into Chinese and Swedish, their latest works have appeared in World Literature Today, BBC Radio 4, Oxford Anthology of Translation, Sant Jordi Festival of Books, and the University of Alabama Press anthology Infinite Constellations. Their lyric essay has been nominated to the Pushcart Prize and their prose poem was selected for The Best Asian Poetry. Formerly with Creative Nonfiction magazine, they’re editor-at-large at Asymptote and assistant nonfiction editor at Panorama: The Journal of Travel, Place, and Nature and Atlas & Alice Literary Magazine. Find more at https://linktr.ee/samdapanas.


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